What are Sugar Ants?

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Sugar Ants that usually show up on kitchen counters in spring and summer are almost always Odorous House Ants (Tapinoma sessile). These little black ants are native to the Pacific North West and are endemic to many parts of the world. They are called “Odorous” ants due to the turpentine-like smell they produce when squished. It’s a safe bet to say every home will eventually see these ants on the counter, in the bathroom or the pantry at some point.

Polygynous Ants

While common wisdom dictates leaving out ant bait so they can take it back to a Queen, this tactic tends to fail with the Odorous House Ant. One of the reasons this strategy fails is because they have more than one “Queen” ant. In large colonies, hundreds of queens may be producing new ants around the clock. It is partly due to this constant production that these ants are particularly difficult to control. Bait placement will typically see a temporary reduction before the next wave of new ants. Who “Don’t even miss” the ones who went before.

Polydomus Ants

With so many queens, these ants don’t have one nest, but multiple nests. Each with its own Queen, nursery, food store, and worker. These nests are often mobile affairs, placed in wall voids, ductwork, bark dust, and even mailboxes. Thus “treating the nest” is not always a certain solution. In my experience, Sugar Ants are “lazy” as far as ants go, and rather than take food to the nest, they will take the nest near the food. If you have a steady stream of ants coming from a light switch to the kitchen counter, it’s a fair bet that you have a nest in that wall.

Mega Colonies

To make matters worse, Odorous House Ants are all one big happy family. They don’t compete with other nests, and will freely share the same space. While a given home may have between 30,000 to 300,000 ants, any given city block in Portland or Vancouver can easily sustain a population of 5 million ants or more. This is one of the reasons that ants return even after successfully being controlled before. Getting rid of all the ants in a neighborhood is like trying to empty the ocean with a bucket.

Control Methods for Sugar Ants

Over the counter, baits can be useful effective if used diligently. Expect it to take close to 90 days of continuous treatment before seeing any results. Be very cautious about applying pesticides to the exterior. Most store-bought products are chemistry-based and have a minimal active ingredient that can repel the ants already in your home. Once trained to stay inside, they will remain indoors indefinitely and are much harder to control. Homeowners should have at least 3 inches of a foundation visible around the exterior perimeter and should lower the soil grade or bark dust accordingly. Cut back shrubs, trees, and other foliage to prevent access by insects. Avoid leaving pet food outside if possible, and be wary of ants infesting Hummingbird feeders close to the home. Above all, DO NOT KILL ants that have fed on baits. Each of these ants will carry the bait back to dozens of others, many of which never leave the nests. It’s estimated that a colony of Sugar Ants will rebound unless you’ve eliminated 98% of the ants. Patience and diligence are key to Sugar Ant control.

Wayfare Pest Solutions to Help Manage Sugar Ants

Speak with a consultant about our general pest removal services if you are finding it challenging to control the Sugar Ants in your home. We offer comprehensive inspection and treatment targeting for all sorts of creepy crawlies in your home or business.


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